Monday, September 20, 2010

A Plane of Scoundrels, Cheats, Cursed and Unlucky People Crashes On An Island . . . Lost Season 1!

The Good: Excellent Character Development, Good Acting, Clever Writing, Wonderful Plot, Pacing
The Bad: Treatment of Pilot, Predictable Ending to the Season, Lack of DVD Commentary For Later Episodes
The Basics: In its first season, Lost tells the story of survivors of a plane crash who must deal with their pasts, a monster in the woods, and each other.

Some of the language of this review is written as if Lost were still at its beginning, which is when the review was originally written.  I liked the flavor of it and so I've opted not to change the wording from the original 2005 text for most of the review.  Enjoy!

Once in a while there is a television show that is so wonderfully different from everything else on television that it becomes an event that one looks forward to each and every week. Star Trek Deep Space Nine, Sports Night, and Nothing Sacred have all filled that niche in my life in the past. Now, every week I find myself anticipating Lost. After watching the third episode, I knew that this was going to be a television show I purchased when it came out on DVD and I was one of the first to my local Media Play when it was released.

Lost is different from anything else on television in that it does not tell a single linear story each week. The basic premise is simple enough; a group of people survive a plane crash and find themselves alive on a desert island. But what the show is truly about in its first season is introducing the viewers to the characters. Season One is a setup, an introduction, a prelude to the actual plot that is unfolding in season two (and presumably, beyond). Each episode tells a story of one of the survivors and then flashes back to that character's backstory to explain how and why that character was on the plane. Usually, the past and present stories are deeply intertwined with key events in the past explaining or justifying the actions of a character in the present.

The story of Lost in its first season is truly simple enough. Oceanic Flight 815 Sydney (Australia) to Los Angeles hits some turbulence and breaks up mid-flight, depositing some forty-eight people on a desert island. Amid the wreckage, Dr. Jack Shephard treats the wounded and survives long enough to save some of the victims of the crash from exploding debris, ghastly wounds and fear.

Surviving the plane crash is only the beginnings of the problems for the passengers. In short order, the survivors realize there is something massive and unseen tearing apart the forest, some of those wounded in the crash are dying and the food supply is dangerously low. When Jack and two other survivors venture into the woods in search of the plane's black box, they learn the horrifying truth of their predicament: no rescue will be forthcoming as the plane was a thousand miles off course when it broke up.

So, the survivors begin to survive, with John Locke hunting boar, Sayid applying his technical skills to the problem of creating a working transmitter, Jack learning to be a leader and leading the survivors from the desperate hope of the beach and rescue to inland caves and survival for the long haul. And in the process of their various attempts to cope and deal with each other, it becomes obvious that the survivors of the crash are not the only ones on the island, a fact reinforced when Locke discovers a mysterious hatch in the ground.

J.J. Abrams is one of the creators and co-executive producers of Lost, treading on his street credibility from Felicity and the more successful Alias. Abrams delivers and with his co-creators Jeffrey Lieber and Damon Lindelof, there is a remarkably cohesive quality to the first season of the show. There is the overall sense that the show is going somewhere and that the producers had a pretty firm idea of who the characters were when they began the work. This bodes well for the series and the only real probable limitation to their vision will be in the actors; quality shows that have well-conceived long-term arcs like Babylon 5 have suffered when actors decide they are moving on to other projects. It would be unfortunate if Lost ran into such a difficulty. As it stands, the first season feels very much like there are long arcs in the works and viewers will be rewarded if they stick with the show.

As the best serialized television shows all have strong characters in common, Lost has a powerful ensemble that keeps viewers returning week after week. The advantage of this series is that with such a large ensemble, the show could go on quite a long time exploring all of the different characters. Indeed, the first season takes place over the course of roughly 45 days, much of which is exploring backstory. Here are the characters who are Lost in the first season:

Dr. Jack Shephard - A surgeon who survives the plane crash only to become the de facto leader of those who want to adapt and survive. He takes on the responsibility of caring for the survivors of the crash and in the process becomes entrusted with many secrets of the various personalities of those who survived as well as the firearms that the survivors possess,

Sayid - An Iraqi who served in the Republican Guard, Sayid is a technical genius bent on getting off the island. His skills allow the survivors to learn that they are not alone on the island and, in fact, he is the first to meet one of the island's other inhabitants. His skills are called upon in leading those who want rescue above all else and he finds himself drawn more and more to the charms of Shannon,

Claire - A pregnant Australian who is on the plane because a psychic told her there was a family in Los Angeles her baby would be safe with. She frets about her unborn child and finds a close friend in Charlie,

Hurley - A good-natured and rather large guy who is often the negotiator on the island, running between different groups of people. His story is guarded for much of the season, but his reasons for being on the plane might be the reason for the crash itself,

Shannon - A spoiled gold-digger whose lifestyle is not supported by being trapped on a desert island. She starts as one who would use anyone to keep herself comfortable, but when her asthma returns, she finds herself dependent. Close to her brother Boone, Shannon's story takes her away from her protective brother when Sayid finds a use for her translating French,

Sawyer - The rogue of the survivors. A con man and a scoundrel, Sawyer becomes the quartermaster as he was the first to scavenge the wreckage. Much of what people want they have to go through him to get. His past is a dark one and he is not on the island for redemption,

Jin - A Korean who does not speak English, he attempts to keep himself and his wife isolated from everyone else. Once he attacks another survivor, though, he is forced to accept that their lives and fates are intertwined. He provides fish for the survivors, but otherwise has no ability to communicate with anyone other than his wife,

Sun - Jin's wife and a woman with a secret. Disappointed by Jin's domineering qualities, Sun had a plan before getting on the plane and the crash has made her rethink her reasons for taking the flight. Sun works to mediate between herself, Jin and the others, realizing that Fate may have deposited her on the island as punishment,

Kate - A woman who was in custody when the plane crashed, Kate is a hardened criminal whose exact crimes remain something of a mystery. She, like Sawyer, is something of a rogue and she bonds quickly to Sawyer, Sayid and Jack. She never reveals more about herself than she has to and as a result is quite a mystery to most everyone on the plane and her agenda is mostly just to escape if rescue does come,

Charlie - The bass player of "Driveshaft," a one-hit band that left Charlie a has-been and a drug addict. He is searching for himself as he goes through withdrawal and finds Claire affectionate toward him. He often ends up on important hikes with Jack or Kate and knows much of what is going on on the island,

John Locke - An older man who is in no hurry to leave the island for a simple reason; he was the beneficiary of a miracle when the crash occurred and he comes to believe the island is an entity or a force of its own. Locke hunts boar for the survivors until he discovers a mysterious hatch in the ground, a hatch he believes is manifested by the island and holds a purpose for him. That belief will motivate his actions and change everything for the survivors,

Michael - An artist and construction worker, he is the father of Walt. Struggling to become Walt's father, he often finds himself in conflict with the boy and Locke, who has taken an interest in the child. His is a story of loss and conflict, adversity and the attempt to triumph over it. Disturbed by what he sees on the island, he decides he must get himself and Walt off the island and he begins construction of a raft,

Walt - A ten year-old boy who was raised by his mother and stepfather in Australia. There is something unsettling about the boy and it does not take long before it becomes apparent that he possesses some gifts that cannot be seen and might not be good,

and Boone - Shannon's brother. Obsessed with Shannon and protective of her, he often finds himself appalled by her bratty nature. Thus, he finds it rather easy to apprentice himself to Locke when the opportunity comes along, a move that changes his life radically.

This is a wonderful eclectic group of characters and their interactions and conflicts make the show far more intriguing than the mysterious unseen creature in the woods. As relationships form (and dissolve) between them, it creates a powerful drama that keeps the viewer coming back for more and eager to see what will happen to them next.

But great characters are nothing without actors to portray them. This is a show that is impressive for its lack of ego in the actors. The cast is listed alphabetically, despite the fact that the character with the most screentime is easily Jack, portrayed by Matthew Fox. Fox is an excellent binder for the actors, approaching the role with good humor and intensity. This is very different from any other role Fox has done and it works quite well for him. Similarly, Dominic Monaghan - best known as Merry in The Lord of the Rings - gives a great performance as Charlie that is quite different from his supporting Hobbit role. Here he is given much screentime to be awkward, pained, and comical. His moments of revelation where he reveals much with his eyes make him an actor to watch.

All of the women of Lost are incredible actresses. Emile de Ravin is great as the pregnant Claire, adding a lot of humor to her young character that works very well. Maggie Grace, one hopes, is a fantastic actress as she pulls off spoiled and rich very well. Because of how unlikable her character is, Grace often gets the short straw for attention. She does wonderful work with her voice and body language that sells her performances and make her character. Evangeline Lilly is excellent as well as Kate, using facial expressions and expressiveness of her eyes to take Kate from sympathetic to hard within an eyeblink. Her character is a strong woman and Lilly effectively balances the internal strength of her character with a powerful bearing with a vulnerability that creeps into her eyes and lips when she needs it to. Yunjin Kim is extraordinary as Sun, especially in the earliest episodes of the season where she is given the greatest acting challenges. She pulls it off admirably.

Complimenting Yunjin Kim's performance is Daniel Dae Kim, who I've enjoyed as a recurring guest actor on Angel. Kim's performance as Jin is memorable in that in all other roles I've seen him in, he speaks perfect, fluent English without any trace of any accent. As Jin, he speaks fluent Korean and he completely sells the viewer on the idea that he does not and cannot speak English. That's quite a feat!

The real star to watch on Lost in the first season is the always excellent Terry O'Quinn. O'Quinn starred in Abram's other work, Alias, and in the fabulously dark Millennium. In Lost, O'Quinn plays a quiet man with deep convictions and he sells the viewer on Locke's vision. O'Quinn is forced to do a lot of physical work on the show and he plays the part of hunter/provider excellently. O'Quinn is given significant passages of dialogue and he manages them perfectly, stealing every scene he is in.

Lost as a show is wonderful, but there are some problems with the DVD boxed set. The first is in the pilot episode. On the DVD, the episode is broken into two episodes, like it was for reruns. In its original release, the episode was a single double-long episode and it should have been preserved and presented that way. The nice thing about the DVD is that the early episodes are chock full of commentary. One of the cool things about the commentaries are that sometimes J.J. Abrams will say "stop the film" and he'll talk about something like alternate takes for several minutes. The DVD provides great behind-the-scenes footage to support his tangent stories and it's clever and a great gift for fans of the show.

The problem is, midway through the season, those wonderful commentaries stop. The latter half of the season, we are not given any behind-the-scenes information or insights into the show, except with the documentary on the final disc. This is annoying, as there are several behind-the-scenes questions that linger awkwardly. For example, one of the regular characters disappears before the end of the season. Fans of the show are left wondering if this was an actor issue or if this was planned all along. After the early forthcoming nature of the bonuses, the obscuring of information in the latter half of the set is just annoying.

The only other thing that is problematic is only problematic for fans of J.J. Abrams other series, Alias. Anyone who has seen enough episodes of Alias knows the exact shot the season would end on. On the plus side, it's a strong ending to the season and more than enough to made us yearn for the second season. And now that the series is over, we can easily say that it DID live up! Check out my review of the full series by clicking here!

FYI: For anyone looking to buy the DVD set, drop me an e-mail!  I have my (VERY GENTLY) used one I'm looking to sell as I'm upgrading to the Complete Series set!

For other television series’ I’ve reviewed, please check out:
Star Trek Season 1


For other television series reviews, please check out my index page!

© 2010, 2005 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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